Are Muskie Dangerous – Killer Reputation Deserved?

The Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) more commonly known as Muskie are strong, powerful, predatory fish with a fierce reputation. Muskies are closely related to pike and they are often perceived as dangerous. There is a slight truth to this, but frankly, they’re not life-threatening to humans. They bite with approximately 44N of force which isn’t even enough to sever a finger.

However, they have been known to bite people on occasion causing them injury. This is predominantly due to situations where the Muskie mistakes human appendages – like an arm or foot – as something they can swallow. They don’t have mighty brains so their ability to detect prey is largely based on movement and they may struggle to discern a human limb from a fish. They are essentially hardwired to attack anything they think they can eat.

Muskies aren’t actively trying to hunt and eat humans; their diet mainly consists of smaller fish. So, similar to most sharks, they have been quite misunderstood in the sense that the majority of attacks are simply down to confusion rather than malice.

Generally speaking, they don’t have the jaw strength to cause life-threatening injuries but they can still give a nasty bite that will draw blood. There are various cautionary measures that you can use to prevent this from happening if you are dealing with Muskies which we’ll cover later in the article.

So, while the Muskie may look menacing, they aren’t something to be genuinely afraid of. They can cause some damage but there isn’t a single record of someone dying from a Muskie attack.

How Dangerous Muskies Are to Humans

Muskies can be dangerous to humans as they are equipped with a sharp set of pointy teeth that can easily penetrate the skin. They can give humans some nasty cuts and bites but that is the extent to which they are dangerous to humans. They can definitely draw blood and a strong bite could leave a nasty scar that may require stitches.

Listed below is a table showing the most dangerous freshwater fish around the world and Muskies are consistently recognized on such lists. However, the Muskie is often recognized on these lists as dangerous because of the threat they pose to other creatures, they are the apex predator of their realm. They’re not on these lists because they are particularly dangerous to humans.

FishDanger Level
African Tiger Fish (Hydrocynus vittatus)Unknown/Unsubstantiated
Dogtooth Tetras (Cynodontidae)Dangerous to Prey – Mild Threat To Humans
Wels Catfish (Silurus glanis)Dangerous to Prey – Mild Threat To Humans
Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy)Dangerous to Prey – Mild Threat To Humans
Payara (Hydrolycus scomberoides)Dangerous to Prey – Mild Threat To Humans
Piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri)Dangerous to Prey – Mild Threat To Humans
Giant Devil Catfish/Goonch (Bagarius yarrelli)Dangerous to Humans & Animals
Piriaba (Brachyplatystoma capapretum)Unknown/Unsubstantiated
Alligator Gar (Atractosteus spatula)Dangerous to Prey – Mild Threat To Humans
Freshwater Stingrays (Potamotrygon motoro)Dangerous to Humans & Animals
Electric Eels (Electrophorus)Dangerous to Humans & Animals
Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas)Dangerous to Humans & Animals
Snakeheads (Channidae)Dangerous to Humans & Animals

So, while the bite of a Muskie is painful and dangerous, it’s hardly life-threatening. When the Muskie realizes that it’s bitten a human and it is unable to swallow you, it should quickly let go. Muskies don’t like the taste of human flesh as their diet predominantly consists of small fish like shad.

Why Muskies Won’t Bite Humans

As we mentioned before, when Muskies do attack humans, its simply because they are confused. Muskie attacks are so rare because they do not desire to prey on people. It’s simply something that doesn’t typically happen.

Another reason you shouldn’t worry about Muskie attacks is that giant Muskie – that may try to bite you – is incredibly rare. The chances of you swimming near a big Muskie are. So, while it is possible to be bitten by a Muskie, it is incredibly unlikely. Trying to catch one is difficult enough, so the chance of being bitten is practically negligible.

In fact, on an episode of River Monsters, we’re able to see just how elusive Muskies are. The presenter, Jeremy Wade, attempts to catch a big Muskie himself in an episode where he’s investigating another fish sighting. He says it took him over 13,000 casts approximately in order to land the fish. You can watch the infamous clip of landing a huge Muskie on 6lb line on the River Monsters YouTube channel. Muskies are so rare that they’ve actually been nicknamed: The Fish of 10,000 casts.

They are very sought after by fishermen for game because of their elusiveness, strength, and looks. In fact, fishermen are among the rare few that may actually get bitten by a Muskie if they aren’t careful when removing the hook from its mouth.

How to Prevent Muskie Attacks When Swimming

Well, the easiest way to prevent getting bitten is by not swimming in areas where Muskies are prevalent. This seems obvious but Muskie is found throughout many lakes and rivers in North America. So, if you know that the water in your state is populated by Muskie, its worth confirming to see if a lake or river is safe before going swimming. It’s also not advisable to dangle your legs into waters that are known for Muskie. That being said, your chances of getting bitten are still incredibly slim.

How to Prevent Muskie Attacks When Fishing

Muskie can be dangerous when handled outside of the water and if you’re not careful its easy to get bitten when fishing for Muskie. This can happen in various ways when Muskie fishing so it’s important to take precautionary measures:

Handling Muskie: The best way to handle a large and lively Muskie is by kneeling with your legs on either side of the fish to prevent it from thrashing and causing potential damage to itself or you. The YouTube channel Fishing Tutorials have done a brilliant video explaining in detail How To Handle and Unhook Pike. While Pike isn’t identical to the Muskie, they are structurally the same and everything in the video can also be applied to dealing with Muskie.

Unhooking Muskie: The main threat is when you’re unhooking the fish. It’s important to stay well away from the sharp teeth and not get tempted to put your hand near its mouth in order to free the hook.

Step 1: In order to unhook a Muskie, you should insert your hand underneath the gills under the fish’s mouth. This is called the gill-plate grip and it allows you to open and close the fish’s mouth in a controllable manner.

Step 2: Once you have got its mouth open, take great care when unhooking the Muskie. Use a long pair of forceps in order to remove the hook and gently pry the hook away from the fish’s mouth.

Step 3: It’s also advisable to have a pair of wire cutters on hand in case you’ve gut-hooked the fish and have to perform an emergency release. This involves cutting the line as short as possible without going putting yourself in danger and quickly releasing the fish.

Step 4: Get the hook away from yourself and the fish. While the teeth on the Muskie are sharp, your fishing hooks will be much sharper and can cause serious damage to you and the fish.

Holding Muskie: When holding a Muskie, it’s important to use the same grip used for unhooking in order to minimize your chances of getting bitten. This means using the gill-plate grip with one hand while providing support with the other.

Releasing Muskie: To release a Muskie, you just need to follow the same principles as before and keep your hands well clear of it’s mouth. You can either release it by putting it back into a net and then lowering it into the water or you can release it by hand. This requires some experience but essentially it involves lowering the fish into the water smoothly and swiftly into slow-moving water.

What to Do If You’re Bitten by a Muskie

If you’re unfortunate enough to get bitten by a Muskie there are a few things you can do to treat the wound. If the bite is light and has barely penetrated the skin then your best option is to rinse the wound under clean water for 5-10 minutes before wiping it clean with a saline solution.

You should then dry the wound area and apply a sterile dressing. However, if the wound is deeper then you should seek medical attention immediately. In most cases, these deeper wounds will require stitches.

Are Muskies Dangerous to Other Animals

Muskies are incredibly dangerous to anything that they may consider prey. They will essentially attack and eat anything that moves. With a strong, streamlined body and gaping wide jaws, they are formidable predators in freshwater. Muskies predominantly eat fish but their prey includes but isn’t limited to:

  • Zooplankton
  • Insects
  • Tullibee (Coregonus artedi)
  • Shad (Alosa sapidissima)
  • Suckers (Catostomidae)
  • Ciscoes (Coregonus clupeaformis)
  • Walleye (Sander vitreus)
  • Pike (Esox lucius)
  • Other Muskies (Esox masquinongy)
  • Bullhead (Cottoidea)
  • Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)
  • Herring (Clupea harengus)
  • Minnows (Phoxinus phoxinus)
  • Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)
  • Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)
  • Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
  • Crappie (Pomoxis)
  • Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

These are just some of the animals that Muskies will hunt and kill. Larger animals are safer as Muskies have to swallow their prey whole but they are still susceptible to attacks. But being dangerous to other animals and prey is an inherent part of being an apex predatory fish. Muskies have sharp teeth, strong muscles, and a streamlined body for a reason. They are predatory.


Muskies are absolutely dangerous to their prey and will easily kill and swallow whole many small fish like shad and bluegill. But while they pose a small threat to humans, there is yet to be a reported case of Muskies killing someone.

This means that it’s good to be aware of Muskie if you live in a state like North Carolina where they are quite common. However, there is no need to fear these animals or to assume that they have malicious intent toward humans.

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